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Depression

Complementary and holistic approaches for depression

Various approaches that people use to treat their depression are generally outside the mainstream health system. Nevertheless, complementary and holistic health approaches are now becoming more common in general practices, private hospitals and community health centres.

Selecting a complementary or holistic healer can be difficult. One woman urged caution as she had met many 'weird' practitioners and thought that virtually anyone could call themselves a holistic therapist. One man did an intensive 10-day course called 'Biodanca' (dance therapy), but felt a sense of loss when the teacher then left the country. It was recommended by some people we talked to that people with depression (and their carers) adopt a 'healthy scepticism' when considering complementary or holistic practitioners.

 
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Has come across unhelpful holistic therapists and wonders about their qualifications.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 16
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Well, I don't know if it's just me, but I seem to end up with people who are just weird. And I know, I've been to a kind of homeopath and stuff as well, and mostly they are kind of just weird people. It sounds really terrible, but I need someone that I can like relate to, and if I think they're a bit weird I just can't do it [laughing].

And I don't know, I don't know the exact law, but as far as I understand it' it's' maybe I'm totally wrong, but with holistic therapies and stuff like that, anyone can just set up as a therapist.
 
 
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Felt abandoned when holistic teacher left the country.

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 45
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But anyway, the bottom line is that this teacher disappeared after 10 days back to Argentina and the, it was really like you know, and I remember on a Saturday I went to bed just for a nap in the afternoon, I was fine. When I got up I said, 'I'm depressed,' like this, [sound effect] and I was depressed for one week but this was to do with the 'loss' that it was very intense emotionally speaking, the involvement with the group, blah, blah, blah and then this person disappears. It's almost as if you, you felt abandoned and I had a Brazilian friend who, who also took part in the workshop, and he felt depressed as well.

Meditation and yoga
Meditation can be used as a way of becoming more 'mindful', calming the mind and body, and reducing anxiety. Gaining mindfulness can also help to defeat negative thoughts. But it can be very difficult to meditate when you are very depressed. In fact, attending relaxation classes and failing to relax could contribute to a sense of failure for some. However, certain simple meditative techniques, for instance taking slow deep breaths, helped even very depressed people.

 

Explains that it is very difficult to do relaxation classes when you are depressed.

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Age at interview: 73
Sex: Male
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Well the [sigh] we were being taught relaxation therapy that was it was talking therapy, and relaxation therapy, which when you're depressed is mighty hard to get started. Once you've started and got the grasp of it, then it's quite good, but to actually get relaxed when you're really depressed is damn nigh impossible you know.

 

When she could not relax during relaxation classes she felt a failure.

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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You cannot relax at all, and I would lie there while this tape was droning on about relax your left knee, your left fist and blah, blah, blah. And I would be lying there like, you know like this..... inside all the time just thinking I hate this. I just want to get out. And then I would feel a failure because I couldn't do [laugh] relaxation exercise. And that again was very ill matched help. And now if I am feeling a bit tired and tense I can lie on the bed for ten minutes and kind of do a quick skim through of a relaxation exercise and it helps because I'm at a point where it does help, but to force it on people when they are very ill is completely counter productive.

 

Initially he doubted that slow deep breathing could help him feel better. (Played by an actor)

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 17
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Other things have been very practical things, just breathing [laughs]. I couldn't believe what a difference that made when the therapist first said to me, "Okay, so try actually breathing in, really you know fill yourself up as far as you can possibly go and then breathe out." And you think yeah right. I told you about my, that was my feeling about a lot of these practical things was yeah alright mate, whatever. But they work, they work.

Especially when people start to recover, they sometimes discover inventive ways to meditate that work for them. For instance, one man found an effective way to deal with anger constructively. Some people found a way to relax and meditate while swimming. A number of people said that meditative practices such as yoga were useful (see Mind's website for more information).

 

Describes a meditation that he uses to deal with anger more constructively.

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 39
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What I've come to believe is that anger is the tool which people have been given in order to heal themselves and what anger is for is to keep out of your system, or expel from your system, something that shouldn't be there. You know, for instance if somebody is ...they get too close to you, then you feel anyway so you tell them to get further away. Well that's nature's way, it's giving you the energy to do that.  But where anger can be misused when' but I've learned that it can be used in a very constructive way, and I've used it to get hatred and anger actually out of my system.

And how do you do that?

It sounds funny that you can use anger to get anger out of you.

A concrete example of what you mean?

Well a concrete example is okay I, I've' because my mother had a lot of distorted religious ideas, when I'm in church, and I go to church quite often, this feeling comes over me of the stupidity of the Christian religion and a hatred of the other people in the pews with me because they, they're sort of buying it. But I'm' but I'm aware of that happening. What I do is I turn the anger that I feel sort of boiling up inside me against the concept about life which I think is partly a religious one which I don't believe in. For instance, God wants you to be miserable and I see those words upon like a signboard and mentally I throw things at the, at the board [laughs] and I let the anger sort of go in the direction of this idea. I say to myself, "That's a lie, it's a damned lie," [laughs]. And I imagine myself with a big axe chopping the board up and this sort of thing. Of course it's quite easy to stand in church or anywhere, nobody is aware of all this stuff going on. But what I've found is that it has a magical effect. At first when I did it all it did was it sort of relived the feeling of anger a bit, but now it very quickly, well it makes space for me to just think of these people that are in the church as people, and clear of that [distorted religious belief].

 
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Says that swimming, with its repetitive movement and breathing, is his main form of stress relief...

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 26
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Do things that make you feel better, like I found that swimming really, really helps me. It's very therapeutic. I think it's the repetitiveness of movement and also it helps your breathing, and also it's a different element. It sort of takes you, being in the water or submerged... or just.... its just a completely different element, its takes you away from your usual surroundings. 

You know, you hear all these comparisons about you know, the reason people like it is because it takes them back to the womb etc. I've heard that being used before, especially the feeling of being under water. I know the sound is all muffled and its just you know, its.... releases the endorphins, obviously the good, the feel good hormones etc. And after I found I now use it, it's my main tool for stress relief, I can often go in feeling terrible and come out feeling fine. Which was very, very common during depression and I'd go to the swimming pool and I'd go in, in the foulest of moods, and I'd come out feeling light, happy, relaxed. 

And it's absolutely brilliant. I've even sometimes used it to take out aggression, so if I'm feeling very, very angry then that just reflects in the speed in which I swim. And you know, if I'm, if I'm feeling really bad, then I'll swim very fast and I'll do.... so instead of doing 20 lengths, I'll do 30, and until I feel that, that actually feel that weight lifted off.

 

Describes sensing a warm energy in his body from doing Tai Chi.

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 39
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And later on, as I went on, I began to be aware of energy moving in my body like electric' sort of feeling of electricity. But I did Tai Chi and I could feel the energy. Actually when I got the, a movement right or a stance right, I could feel this, this sort of warm energy sort of coming down through my head and coming up through my feet.

Energy healing
Energy healing featured in several people's stories about recovery. It came in many different forms, such as spiritual healing, Reiki, or Johrei. People reported a greater sense of wellbeing from such healing. One man had healing sessions at a community centre, as well as Johrei from a friend, and said that this kind of healing provided some 'spiritual nourishment' and welcome relief, but not a cure. One woman, who was also taking a newer anti-depressant, thought a spiritual healing called 'Family Tree Healing' had helped her.

 
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He got some relief from depression, feeling better and sleeping better after spiritual healing.

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 45
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And I came across this [community centre] and I saw something saying 'Spiritual Healing' and it wasn't on that day, so I went there and I made an appointment. And I think I had about 5 treatments, 5 sessions of this spiritual healing and I found it very comforting and very, I mean the whole thing' I mean just I think you have to believe that, otherwise I wouldn't be there. So I do believe and I did believe, so that's why I went, and I had had seen these things in Brazil and with the kind of physical problems and like stomach ulcers it did work in a way that drugs did not work at the time. 

So I went there and I told them I'm depressed blah, blah, blah. And I don't know if you know how it works, but I mean I closed my eyes and this person just, it's all energy and sometimes I could feel the hands but they didn't even touch me. And I used to' I mean the days I had or when I was having it, I left there kind of relieved and light and feeling much better, not that I think that would cure one's depression, but it gives you a kind of momentary relief'. Yeah, it made me feel lighter and I also tried, I have a friend who gives Johrei, and one day she came here and she, she gave me one treatment and it was also very this one there is touching you know, it's almost like, I think she did more in my head and my back but there this one you have some physical touching, and also again it's through energy and if the person's not touching you, you feel the heat and oh, so those 2 treatments I thought they were kind of very useful in a kind of giving you some relief. And I think even in terms of sleeping I think the days I had the healing, the spiritual healing, I think I felt, I think it's almost like feeling, feeling nourished in your spirit and yeah, so I thought it was very useful.

 

Describes how taking a new antidepressant and doing 'Family Tree Healing' helped her to recover...

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 20
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And the actual healing took the form of a Christian liturgy, in the home of a minister of religion, who devoted his time to healing; didn't have a church. Not necessarily just Family Tree Healing, but to healing altogether. But, in this particular form of healing, he put aside one room so it was like a sanctuary. I was kind of aware of the... what the energy must be like there. And he had a table, that was his altar, and you could put anything of significance on the table. So I put my book of poems, I put a letter I had written, offering up, as it were, what I felt needed to be made whole.

And anything else, I can't remember what else, but anything can be put there, a crystal, whatever that was symbolically important. The liturgy itself, because I wasn't actually a church-going Christian, and he knew this and he accepted this, but because they believed in the Christ spirit, you know the deeper meaning of all these outer teachers. That was fine, and the liturgy was able to be altered to suit. You know, I could add or subtract from it to suit. And that... that's one of the things he does do this man, yes, in Derbyshire.

What did it do for you?

Now, the interesting thing is, on the day that I went there, I was feeling not quite so bad, because by this stage I was on a different drug. I'd been on the tricyclics, I'd been on the paroxetine, which was an SSRI.

I was now on one which is in a class of it's own, venlafaxine.

Because it was working on the noradrenaline as well as the serotonin and a- I think that's what of course I'd been needing the whole time. With the adrenaline that was all around my body. That's my theory. So, I was on that but I wasn't fully well just yet. But I was, it was one of my better days. And, I had two friends tuning in at a spiritual level to what I was doing, and other people around the country, probably praying for, thinking of me at the time. And within a very short time, I began to get much better. I had one more severe dip down, for a short time, well, two or three weeks. And then, by the beginning of December, I really was getting better, and didn't look back.

Pills and potions
A number of people had used St John's Wort (Hypericum). This appeared to work for some with mild to moderate depression. There were cautions that people should consult their doctors before using St John's Wort because it can interact with other drugs (for more information see Mind's website). A few people had also tried other remedies including fish (Omega-3) oil, Zinc, and flower essences such as 'Gorse' and 'Mustard'. A number of people believed that diet was important in depression.

 

St John's Wort helped his depression, but he cautions about the side-effect of increased light...

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 39
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I asked the psychiatrist if I could take St John's Wort instead of his antidepressant and he said, "Well it's up to you, but only, but you'll have to pay for it if you take St John's Wort." So I did take St John's Wort and that seemed to do the trick, and it was at a time of year when this thing about light doesn't, doesn't affect you because St John's Wort can make you light sensitive, some people become very light sensitive.

 

A self-help group discussed concerns about St John's Wort. (Played by an actor)

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Age at interview: 68
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57
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Another thing when we were there, St Johns Wort was very much under the microscope. And we learned that if you're taking it [St John's Wort] with ordinary medication it can be quite dangerous. It can negate anything else or complicate what you were taking. So we had to keep playing the mantra, 'If you try anything, you must consult your doctor before you do anything, don't take any, don't just think well I'll reduce this existing medication and I'll take some St Johns Wort because you could make yourself worse.'

 
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Feels that taking fish oils helped to lift her mood, but it took 6 weeks, and she continues to...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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Yes, it (Fish Oils) didn't help immediately. I guess it must have taken about six weeks to build up. But I'd say there was a definite lifting of mood. It may have happened in time, but I, I think there was some link there. And the fact that the doctor says it can help with prevention of future depression is incredibly important to me. It gives me a greater feeling of confidence that I have some control over the depression coming back. 

Mm, is that - it sounds almost like insurance?

That's right, that's right. I think that I - that this has been a journey, and I've learned a lot about what caused the depression, and along the way, ways of coping with the depression, so I have more control over it coming back, and if it does, how to handle it.
 

Other approaches
People said that hypnotherapy and related approaches (such as rebirthing) were helpful to a degree. One woman felt she had become less fearful and developed a more positive perspective partly through hypnotherapy, yet later stopped going when the therapist wanted to delve into traumatic childhood events. A man felt that multi-rebirths had helped him to be less anxious over time, while a woman found Craniosacral therapy relaxing.

 
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Was surprised by the way a hypnotherapist helped her to think more positively.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 16
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Probably about 3 years ago maybe, I can't remember why but I went, for a while I went to a hypnotherapist. And, you know, it's just luck basically, but I think he was really good and because I have kind of anxiety and stuff as well, he basically helped me to, you know, you learn how to do relaxation and all that sort of thing. I mean, to be honest, since I stopped going I can't do the relaxation stuff any more, but he'd learned how to do sort of cognitive stuff as well and he was surprising. Actually, he managed to make me realise a lot more things than any of the other things that I'd done. Even though, like theoretically, it's a totally different thing and it's not necessarily supposed to be all about' 

Well I'm not sure what it's supposed to be about, but you know, it's all about trying to make you less anxious and stuff. But he sort of' I think a lot of these things are just down to the individual person, and how good they are, or how you get on with them. And he just seemed to come up with quite sensible ideas about it. And I think partly, if you're doing hypnotherapy, it's like you know the aim is to get a kind of release of your subconscious, and go down and teach your subconscious better things. But also, if you're doing that you're visualising stuff, and so if you say this is what I'm visualising, they go, 'Oh right, so you're seeing things like that and maybe you should see it like that.' And I think that really, even though there's no way, I can't do it now, and I should have you know, but I've totally forgotten it all. I've taken things away from that, that now there is a little bit of a little voice in my head whereas before I'd just been like, 'Oh, everything's really terrible and I can't do this, I can't do this.' There's at least a little voice in my head going, well actually maybe you can. And you know, that's a big change for me.
 
 

Doing multiple rebirths has gradually helped him to relax and become less anxious.

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Male
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This is the idea of rebirthing, that you get right back to birth and that you relive this first experience of the world, because you live in this wonderful sort of warm womb environment and then suddenly it all starts happening. And what they say is that the baby must be very confused because the baby's grown in this, developed consciousness in this warm safe environment and suddenly dragged out to bright cold. I've got forceps marks there, that's where I was dragged out, that's where they turned my head with the forceps. Yes, so my first experience of the outside world was of somebody sticking some cold tongs in and twisting me out, you know. So Michael thinks, thinks that's a root of a lot of my anxiety problems, you know. Rebirthers trace it all back to your birth basically. Yes, after a lot of the rebirthing sessions I had felt very relaxed, very confident, very sort of cleared of all the sort of problems, but they do tend to come back , but maybe not as bad. The anxiety problems are reducing dramatically and have done over the last few years, but accelerating over the last couple of years since I done the healing journey course.... the rebirthing.

 

She feels Cranio-sacral therapy helped her to relax and get over a cold, as well as reduced the...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 18
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And I'm also trying since about November now I think, about four months, I've doing cranial sacral therapy.

And what's that like?

It's fantastic.

Can you tell the people what it is?

Yeah it's bizarre. It's like a laying on of hands. It's the therapist will spend half the time cradling your cranium. Your lying on an osteopathic couch, and the other half working on the sacrum, at the base of the spine and it stimulates the cranial fluid to move around and, and basically it's, it's to enable your own immune system to, to be boosted if you like so that you can heal yourself. And I was very depressed last year and so I was on very high dosage of medication, certainly a very high amount of anti-depressant at one point, and I'd been able to come off the medication much more quickly and not suffer bad side-effects. And I'm sure that's because I'd been in this therapy at the same time.

Cranial Sacral. It's, at times it's deeply relaxing and at other times it's quite stimulating. I had a treatment last night and oh I completely relaxed. I went to dream land for a while, and I could scarcely walk when I came out, I was so sort of floaty but heavy. And I'd had a heavy cold recently and it moved a lot of sort of things like sinus fluid around, and it's just sort of dispersing it now. I feel much better than I have in days, and it really just helps you recover. Because that's all the treatment I have to pay for separately. That doesn't come under the NHS.

Others discussed Chinese medicine, including acupuncture.

Last reviewed September 2017.
Last updated October 2012.

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